BEDFORD — Danny Johnson — co-owner of Peaks of Otter Winery — said alcohol and politics should not mix. He said that’s especially true now that the partial government shutdown is “really putting the hurt” on wineries and breweries across the region.
“It’s not only hurting the government workers who are furloughed, it’s furloughing us as well,” Johnson said of independent wineries and breweries like his. “Except the government workers will probably get back pay and we won’t get anything.”
Johnson said when a brewery or winery makes a new beer, wine or cider, the formula for the product must be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. After the product is made, it cannot be bottled and sold until a label is approved by the TTB. His winery is among several wineries and craft breweries in central Virginia that are experiencing difficulties from the ongoing shutdown.
“Without that approval we can’t do anything,” Johnson said. “It just kind of leaves us hanging until they sort things out in Washington.”
Johnson said his winery wants to produce a new sparkling wine but cannot proceed until the TTB offices reopen.
“Of course it will take even longer if they ever do reopen because the backlog of work piled up will be tremendous,” Johnson said. “We wanted to have this wine ready for sale by this summer, but I’m not sure that will happen now.”
Johnson said his business also wanted to start brewing beer that will be sold at the winery but cannot get a brewing permit because of the government shutdown.
“We have everything set up for a brewery but we can’t do anything until this issue is settled in Congress,” Johnson said.
Doug John, who owns and operates Apocalypse Ale Works in Forest, said he has several new beers his business can’t release until the shutdown is resolved.
“In the craft beer industry you have to watch for trends,” John said. “IPAs are big right now and small breweries like ours release new beers to follow those trends. If we can’t make new beers, it will really start to hurt our business.”
John said the shutdown is also delaying his license to start making cider.
“The state has approved us to make cider and so has Bedford County,” John said. “Those entities have done their part, but until the TTB signs off on it we can’t do anything. The only good thing about this is that we have more time to perfect our recipe.”
Austin John, Doug John’s son, said independent breweries that ship their product across state lines — including Devil’s Backbone in Nelson County — cannot distribute new products until the shutdown ends.
“We are looking at distributing in other states in the future but we don’t have to worry about that right now,” Austin said. “But some of these other breweries are really feeling the effects of not being able to do interstate commerce right now.”
Devil’s Backbone spokeswoman Rebecca Holland issued a statement to The News & Advance about the shutdown. “The TTB shutdown is affecting us like everyone else in the Virginia craft beer community,” it said. “Devils Backbone does have new product labels submitted that are currently waiting for approval.”
Austin John said he is worried about the future of the craft beer industry in Virginia because some breweries could go out of business.
“We were the 43rd brewery to open in Virginia,” he said of Apocalypse, which opened in 2013. “Now there are more than 250. The governor’s office has been very supportive of the craft beer industry and wanted to make Virginia the Napa Valley for craft beer. This potentially can undo a lot of work that has been done for our industry in the state. I’ll be interested to see how many jobs are affected by this.”
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman — a Republican who represents Virginia’s 5th District and owns a distillery in Nelson County — issued a statement: “He acknowledges that some wineries and breweries are affected by the shutdown, especially due to the lack of new labels being approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The Congressman is working to end the shutdown as soon as possible so as to end any issues facing these producers.”
Johnson said: “I wish they could just pass something that would get the government up and running again.”